It is 31 years since that historic vote took place in November 1992 which allowed women to become ordained as priests in the Church of England. After 19 years of debate, the Church of England’s parliament – the General Synod – took the decision to allow women’s ordination. The measure had to be approved by a two-thirds majority in each of the Synod’s three houses of bishops, clergy and laity. It passed by a margin of only two votes among lay people. In 1994, England’s first 32 women were ordained as priests.
On 5th November 2023, the parish of Badsey with Aldington, together with the other five parishes in the United Benefice, welcomed its first female Vicar. This was the Reverend Joanna Baxter Fielding as the new Vicar, whose service of licensing took place at Offenham. Joanna (known as Jo) will live at Badsey Vicarage with her husband, David.
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Joanna Baxter was born in North Devon. She studied Theology at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, graduating with a BA Honours degree in 1989. It was at Oxford that she met her husband, David Fielding. They have two children: Anna and Matthew.
Jo worked in Zimbabwe for two years after graduation, employed as an English teacher in a high school and serving as a lay preacher and Sunday School teacher. On returning to England, she lived firstly in Oxford, then in Leicestershire. She completed her lay reader training with the Diocese of Leicester and gained a graduate diploma in Careers Guidance. The family then moved to Northamptonshire where Jo worked as a careers adviser and took services in her local parishes.
In 2004, the Fielding family moved to Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand, as David had a new job at Otago University. Jo was re-licensed as a Lay Reader in the Diocese of Dunedin. She worked as a university administrator for some years, then returned to the careers service. She was ordained deacon in 2012 and priest in 2013. Jo was part of the ministry team at Otago Peninsula Anglican Parish. During this time, she was also involved in hospital and university chaplaincy work and served on a number of committees and boards in the Diocese, including the Diocesan Council. She also worked as a volunteer for Victim Support and for Women’s Refuge across the Dunedin area.
The Fieldings returned to the UK in October 2019 so that Jo’s husband, David, could take up an appointment at The University of Manchester as Professor in the Global Development Institute. They settled the Colne Valley.
In 2020, Jo became an Associate Priest for the Benefice of Marsden, Slaithwaite and East Scammonden in the Diocese of Leeds. She was licensed by the Bishop of Huddersfield on 2nd December 2020.
In 2023, Jo became the first female to be Priest-in-Charge of the Benefice of East Vale and Avon Villages. Her service of licensing by the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend Dr John Inge, took place on Sunday 5th November 2023 at 4 pm at the Church of St Mary & St Milburgh, Offenham. Alan and Shirley Tutton represented The Badsey Society at the service.
It should be noted that Jo Fielding, whilst having the honour of being the first female Vicar of Badsey, is not the first female Vicar in the Vale. The Reverend Michelle Ward, in the neighbouring United Benefice of Wickhamford and Broadway, took up her post in 2012.
A few statistics
Ministry Statistics for 2020, published by the Church of England in 2021, gives the following information:
- A third (33%) of those in ordained ministry (nearly 20,000 in total) in 2020 were female, which has continued the gradual increase in the proportion of women (28% in 2016).
- Concerning ordinations in 2020 (570 in total), more females (55%, up from 51% in 2019) were ordained than males (45%).
- In 2020, as in the previous two years, more females than males began training (54% females, 46% males).